Slavic Paganism is based on the indigenous religion of the Russian/Slavic peoples before Christianity took over. Starting around 150 CE, the Slavic population began to expand from their original homeland and eventually developed into three distinct groups. The Western Slavs, who were influenced by Germanic and Celtic cultures, now inhabit Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. The Eastern Slavs, who headed into the forested northern territories of the Finnish and Baltic people, continue to dwell in Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Ukraine. The Southern Slavs, who migrated down into the Balkan Peninsula, currently live in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Bulgaria.
The origins of Slavic belief rest in animism and ancestral worship. Dualism permeates all of Slavic Pagan spirituality; a system of complimenting opposites such as darkness and light, winter and summer, female and male, cold and hot, more similar to the concept of yin and yang.
From this original dualism sprang belief in all of the nature spirits. There were essentially two types of spirits: the Beregyni - female spirits that bring life and are the forerunners of the Rusalki, and Upyr - the spirits of death who eventually became our modern Vampire (Wampyr).
The Slavic people worshipped nature and the elements. They celebrated in the open air around trees that were particularly old, or had peculiar and special significance; prayers were offered in wooded groves at the base of giant boulders. Public ritual and celebration, feasts, prophecies and offerings accompanied all rites.
Reincarnation, the passing of the soul into another body after death, and the dead are honored annually with a festival known as Semik. This is a time when the ancestors are remembered and their ongoing connection to the community is reconfirmed. It is also a time of solemn remembrance for those who have met their deaths that year through unfortunate circumstances.
Magic permeated every aspect of the Slavic pagan. The fields, forests, barn, bath and hearth were all ruled by spectral beings, sometimes good, sometimes horrible. Each flame and river was a goddess or god, each flower and stone a sentient being. The spirits of the dead too, filled the Slavic world. Life-draining wampyr, trees housing the souls of the departed, fairy-folk and ancestral spirits were an integral part of life, demanding respect and often, sacrifice. The Slavic Pagans spent their entire existence under the watchful eyes of the spirits; tightly wrapped in a dark cloak of magic, mystery, and sometimes, terror.
Rusalka (roo-SAHW-kah) - Female water Spirit. These souls of unbabtized babies or drowned maidens became beautiful pale girls with long flowing hair. They wear white or are sometimes naked, usually with poppies in their hair. They lived in the waters during the winter, but moved to the forests and fields during Rusal'naia week where they could often be seen perched in trees.
A danger to humans, the Rusalki may lead cattle astray, steal children, fall upon people from the treetops and tickle them to death or kidnap young lads to take as lovers. They love to come out in the moonlight to sing and dance the Khorovod (circle dance). If they find someone bathing near where they dance, often, they will drown them. Tying ribbons to trees in which they were known to perch is one way to appease them. Linens and scarves, as well as eggs were also left as offerings.
Upyr, Wampyr , or what we now call Vampire, were originally spirits of death and predate the sky gods. People of high facial colour or an excitable nature were supposed to cool slowly on death,retaining a red complexion and flexible limbs, hence the expression "Czerwony jak wieszczy", "red as a vampire". Their physical body does not usually leave the grave. Their victims are their own family members whom they visit, one at time to drain their life's force. When that family member is dead, they move onto the next. In this manner was evidence of vampire activity discovered. Members of a single family would begin to die, one by one. If the Wampyr had no relatives,they would pull on the church bell,signalling death for all that heard it.
Vampires are the souls of the dead. They may choose to remain on earth by latching onto a human victim who is weak or morally corrupt. Through this victim they absorb the life's energy of others. Taking blood is one method of doing this. They cannot take the life's force of their victim, as he or she would die, so they possess him or her, and force the person to take the blood of others. From this legend, Bram Stoker was able to write his most famous novel, "Dracula".
The Vodonoi (vohd-YAH-noy) - Male water spirits from "Woda", meaning water. Master shape-shifters, they sometimes appear as old men with long green or white beards, sometimes as creatures with huge toes, claws, horns, a tail and burning eyes in a human face. At times they look like fat old bald men and other times like mossy looking fish or flying tree trunks. If he takes on human form, you will know him by the water oozing from the left side of his coat. Vodonoi are said to live in underwater palaces made from the treasures from sunken ships and often marry Russalki.They are usually malicious and are believed to lie in wait for human victims and drag them under the water to their death. Dark marks on the bodies' of drowning victims were thought to be bruises from their struggle with the Vodonoi. Retrieving a drowned body was thought to anger the Vodonoi who wanted to keep their spoils. A Vodonik may be appeased by pouring butter into the water or offering him your first fish. To employ the Vodonoi's aid in fishing, throw a pinch of tobacco into the water and say loudly "Here's your tobacco, Lord Vodonik, now give me a fish".
Baba Yaga is the Arch-Crone, the Goddess of Wisdom and Death, the Bone Mother. Wild and untamable, she is a nature spirit bringing wisdom and death of ego, and through death, rebirth. She is a guardian spirit of the fountain of the Waters of Life and of Death.